The companion series to RuPaul’s Drag Race has been demoted to a day-after, online-only series, but the stripped-down version is proving to be even more compelling than the version that aired on television. Thinking about Untucked also helps take my mind off last week’s bullshit elimination.
Episodes of Untucked start in media res, as RuPaul tells several of the queens they’re safe from elimination. That begins our look backstage–literally, we get to see behind the scenes of this part of the production. Mostly, the contestants wait around and talk; we eavesdrop.
The set on which they interact has changed from a decorated space to a backstage area in which we can see the soundstage’s walls. While a sponsor’s logo pops briefly on the title card, gone is any other on-set product placement. There’s only a neon version of “WOW presents,” the YouTube channel of Drag Race production company World of Wonder. The couches and stools the queens sit on look uncomfortable; the drinks look sad. There’s no bar, just what looks like a clothes hamper with those pathetic drinks sitting on it.
Whether this is by design or out of financial necessity doesn’t really matter, because it communicates to us that this is more real than the actual show. In this space, the contestants end up revealing more than they would if they actually used the half hour to untuck their penises.
Yes, this has been Untucked‘s hallmark and purpose since season one, when it was known as Under the Hood. (The season-one version was also web-only, so this is a return to its origins, I suppose.) Still in their costumes and makeup from the runway challenge, the queens talk about the judges’ decisions, the challenge, and each other. They argue and cry.
Having only watched Untucked since last season, I’m not able to provide a wide-ranging historical perspective on how much more (or less) confessional it is this season. Because I’m interested in getting to know the people behind the acts, and because they are much less performative here, I do think it’s very compelling. These aren’t secret scenes or excess footage that a network dumps online and you watch, only to realize just why they were cut in the first place.
Untucked breaks the fourth wall much more than it did before, showing what happens behind the scenes, from a contestant smoking outside the soundstage to stagehands in t-shirts and shorts herding contestants or dragging suitcases to a van. The cameras follow and linger more than they did last season, and every part of the backstage action we get to see is interesting. For example, in its first season seven episode, we also got to see what the nude costumes looked like without the censorship.
The show also now uses some clever aesthetic choices, like having the footage shift from black and white to color as someone actually claps–there’s not even budget for a clapperboard, it seems to be saying. The result of the stripped-down production makes the conversations feel even more intimate and meaningful, and that’s really drawn me in.